iPad 2 Early Reviews Roundup

There is the good: "superbly capable, class-shaping tablet", "elegant", thinner and faster, the iPad on a "serious diet", "makes the Xoom look obese", "really quite good". And there is the bad: "Notifications remain a bug bear", camera "barely adequate" with a "serious photon deficiency", no USB or SG, no Flash, speaker could be better, no earbuds. With the iPad 2 going on sale tomorrow, we would like to offer a roundup of the early iPad2 reviews for your consideration.

The following is a summary of early iPad 2 reviews from around the web. The reviews are quoted and otherwise summarized for your reading pleasure, and linked should you desire to read the whole darn thing. Enjoy!

SlashGear, Vincent Nguyen

"Squeezing a faster processor, boosted graphics and twin cameras into a 33-percent thinner design, yet keeping the same 10hr battery and – perhaps most importantly – the same price, the iPad 2 promises to refine what rivals were still struggling to beat."

The thinner design gets big points, and after extensive Geekbench testing, the speed of the processor is measurably faster. The negatives: no USB, SD or Thunderbolt, it would have been nice if Apple offered a hybrid GSM/CDMA radio so that users could switch between carriers. Also, it would have been ideal to have a GPS chip on the Wi-Fi only version.

Bottom Line: "Apple has put together a superbly capable, class-shaping tablet, which can now legitimately take on not only other slates but lighter ereaders such as Amazon's Kindle. The iPad 2 benefits from Apple's cohesive hardware and software development together with the vast third-party developer support of the App Store, consistent and simple to use in equal measure. Apple's vision of the post-PC world isn't quite here yet – the iPad 2 still works best with, and at times demands, integration with a "proper" computer – but when it comes to tablets the iPad 2 maintains its position at the vanguard of the market."

New York Times, David Pogue

At first glance, the changes don't seem significant, but "just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience." The iPad 2 "makes the Xoom look obese". The price is impressive, so even with the missing Flash support, "for the first time, your heart can succumb to the iPad mystique — without having to ignore the practical input from your brain."

USA Today, Edward C. Baig

The iPad 2 "makes what was already a splendid slab even better, even if the overall upgrade is relatively modest." There is no SD or USB connection, and the camera is not great, especialy with no flash, but "when it comes to the ever-evolving state of the art, iPad 2 is second to none."

Wall Street Journal, All Things Digital, Walter S. Mossberg

This is the best of the tablets out there, even with drawbacks. It can't be upgraded to 4G, and the tapered design makes it harder to plug in the connector (Mossberg is the only reviewer we saw who found this to be a problem), and the camera is lacking. It's an improvement, but no need to rush out to upgrade if you have an iPad. The OS is much more stable than Android, the iPad 2 never crashed.

Bottom Line: "the iPad 2 moves the goal posts, by being slimmer and lighter, boosting speed and power, and holding its price advantages, available apps and battery life. As of now, I can comfortably recommend it as the best tablet for average consumers."

MacWorld, Jason Snell

With the iPad 2, "competitors will now face a new iteration of the iPad, one that's faster, smaller, and lighter than the model introduced a year ago—all while retaining the $499 entry price that has proven all but impossible for Apple's competitors to match. It's almost unfair."

The thinner design makes it much easier to handle. The HDMI dongle is "one of the most pleasantly surprising features" of the new tab.

Bottom line: "the iPad 2 is a triumph, an iPad that's even more iPad than the original. And the original one was really good. The first iPad was a bolt from the blue, a device that defined an entire category, and a tough act to follow. The iPad 2 follows it with aplomb."

Engadget, Joshua Topolsky

The iPad 2 is "Beautifully and thoughtfully crafted", even if he "really would have liked to see a bump in resolution — if not up to the Retina Display's doubled numbers, then something substantial. We don't take issue with the quality of the display as far as color balance or deepness of blacks go, but we would like to see higher pixel density, especially for the book apps."

The speaker is not that impressive, but the battery life is great: "For the first few days we used the device we didn't even bother plugging it in. In fact, even during heavy use — 3G and WiFi on, app testing (heavy work in GarageBand in particular), browsing, news reading, emailing, picture / video taking, and music listening — we neglected to plug the iPad 2 into a socket for a span of about five days. When we did plug it in, the battery percentage was still only hovering around the low 30s."

This reviewer was also not impressed with the camera: "Let's just put this out there: the iPad 2 cameras are really pretty bad. They're not unusable, but it's clear that the sensors employed are not top shelf by any measure." The cameras suffer from "serious photon deficiency".

The iPad 2 still lacks Flash, and the annoying popup notifications are still there, but the overall impression is positive:

"For owners of the previous generation, we don't think Apple's put a fire under you to upgrade. Unless you absolutely need cameras on your tablet, you've still got a solid piece of gear that reaps plenty of the benefits of the latest OS and apps. For those of you who haven't yet made the leap, feel free to take a deep breath and dive in — the iPad 2 is as good as it gets right now. And it's really quite good."

The Daily, Peter Ha

The new iPad is easier to hold, with a crisper sound, and a "wicked fast" processor. In fact, "apps that once moved at the speed of sloth are now Millennium Falcon fast".

But the camera dissapoints: "as a practical camera it's awkward and ungainly."

Bottom line: "Cameras and speed aside, the iPad 2 isn't drastically different than what you have in your hands. It's just a much sleeker and sexier version of it."

Daring Fireball, John Gruber

"Every once in a while, Apple releases something brand-new. The original iPod. The 2007 iPhone. Last year's iPad. These original releases tend to be minimal technically, but radical conceptually. Then, generally on an annual schedule, Apple improves them iteratively and steadily over time.

This is exactly what they've done with the iPad 2. It is a refinement of the original iPad — an impressive one, in several ways, considering that it arrives just 11 months after the original. But it is in no way a radical or significant departure from last year's model."

But Apple is not aiming for iPad owners. "They're looking at the hundreds of millions of people who haven't yet, but will soon. The year-over-year delta between Apple products is almost always noticeable but seldom dramatic." And "Every little thing on the iPad 2 feels more responsive."

The smart covers are "so cool that I can imagine iPad 1 owners — who think they're happy to stick with what they've got — changing their minds and deciding to upgrade upon seeing Smart Covers in person."

Bottom Line: "The iPad 2 is a solid second-generation iteration. Easier and more comfortable to hold, noticeably faster, equippable with foldable covers that are both literally and figuratively magnetic. Like last year's iPhone 4, it seems like technology from the near future."

Laptop Mag, Mark Spoonauer

The "slimmer design makes easier to hold," the iPad went on a "serious diet". The speaker is a mono speaker, the Xoom has a superior speaker. iOS 4.3 does not include a personal hotspot feature, even though the iPhone 4 does, and "Apple also decided not to include new multitouch gestures–at least for now–that are available to developers for testing, such as pinching to get back to the home screen and swiping from left to right to switch between apps." Also, notifications and social networking integration need work.

As for the Smart Cover, "only Apple could make this". Overall, "when you look at the whole package–hardware, software, apps, battery life, accessories, and price–the iPad 2 is the king of tablets."

The Root, Omar Wasow

"The clever, magnetic Smart Cover is fun and functional, and the front- and rear-facing cameras will be popular for applications ranging from making family video calls to helping document insurance claims." Insurance claims? Wow. That is not a use we had thought of for the iPad 2.

"Power users will still want a laptop. People primarily interested in reading text-only books might prefer a cheaper, lighter e-book reader. Less tech-savvy folks might find even the stripped-down interface of iOS too confusing." And like other reviewers, Wasow was disappointed that the initial configuration of the iPad 2 still requires that the tablet be connected and configured from a laptop or desktop computer. "This is not only a buzzkill amid the joy of using it for the first time but makes the iPad hard to use as a primary computer."

Bottom line: "if you're in the market for a tablet, the iPad 2 is beautiful, powerful and delightful. It's a pleasure to use, whether you're browsing the news, skimming graphic-heavy pdfs, watching video or playing games. And so far, no other device comes close in price and performance. The company is far and away the top dog, and contrary to what the critics say, the iPad 2 is going to keep it that way."

Tech Crunch, MG Siegler

Apple has "pushed a device that already had no true competition, even farther ahead. But now I've had the chance to actually use the thing non-stop for a week. Is my feeling the same?

Actually, it's even stronger." The tapered edges feel better, and even though the dock connector is a little harder to connect, that is a nitpick.

As for Garage Band and PhotoBooth, "they're great apps that people will get a ton of use out of. One the other, they showcase that yes, the iPad is creating as well as consuming."

This reviewer, like most, loves the smart cover.

One negative: he wishes "the thing was a little lighter. Holding it in one hand is fine in some positions, in others it gets tiring. I also wish the screen was less reflective. You basically cannot read anything in direct sunlight."

And, "Speaking of the screen, there had been a lot of talk about the iPad 2 getting a higher resolution "retina" display. Obviously, that didn't happen. That would have been nice, but the iPad screen as it stands is already pretty great."

The notifications are annoying.

As for other tablets on the market, "most don't yet stack up well against the iPad 1, let alone iPad 2. I've only played with a Xoom for a few minutes, and I was generally impressed, but apparently it's very, very buggy."

Bottom Line: "the iPad 2, should you buy one? Maybe — it depends on a few factors. Will you want to buy one? Yes. Use that information wisely."

Bloomberg Businessweek, Rich Jaroslovsky

Overall, "the iPad is the value-price leader in the market." Jaroslovsky had some negatives to report, like most, he found the cameras "barely adequate".

And he was the only one that had a gripe with the Smart Cover: "pay attention if you spend the extra $39 or $69 for Apple's new "smart cover," which attaches to the iPad magnetically and automatically puts it to sleep when closed. Tossing the iPad into my computer bag, or even onto the seat of my car, jostled the cover enough to wake it back up by accident."

Battery life is impressive: "I wanted to run the battery down to zero through routine use; I finally gave up the effort because it wasn't draining quickly enough."

Bottom Line: "So for anyone in the market for their first tablet, the discussion begins — and for the moment probably ends — with the iPad. For existing iPad users, the question is whether to upgrade. Unless you truly need the video capabilities, the answer is: Not really. But let's face it: Many of you are going to anyway. So go ahead, and pass your first-generation model to a family member. There'll soon be a lot more happy spouses, siblings and kids in the Apple orbit."

PC Mag, Tim Gideon

The thinner, lighter design is not that impressive: "your hands are not going to notice much difference in weight after holding either device for more than ten minutes."

The camera takes "0.7-megaxpixel (yikes!) stills." But "The Camera app is about as easy to use as it gets." And it is "more about capturing the moment and having fun than taking high-quality images." Plus, "high-resolution images taken on other cameras and loaded onto the iPad look amazing." One gripe: The $499 device should include earbuds.

And there is no plan to offer a 4G upgrade: "The Motorola Xoom is currently 3G as well, but Motorola and Verizon promise free upgrades to 4G LTE when it becomes available on the Verizon network. Apple made no such promises at the launch for the iPad 2."

And this reviewer was the only one to have the software freeze up: "As much as I love the new GarageBand app, when I played notes rapidly on its Smart Guitar, the screen froze twice and I had to manually reboot the iPad. That was my only negative experience—and it was a pre-launch version of the app, so I'm willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt here."

Bottom Line: "The clear standout in the ever-widening sea of tablets, the Apple iPad 2 brings a slimmer design, faster processing, dual cameras, and FaceTime video chat to a tablet that already had a leg up on the competition." But if you already have an iPad, "upgrading right now seems a bit rash."

General conclusions

Reviewers seem to agree that the thinner, lighter design makes the tablet much easier to handle. The iPad 2 is noticeably faster. Even though the iPad wasn't slow, everything runs faster and more smoothly on the iPad 2. The HDMI dongle (an additional $39) is great, and works seamlessly to connect the iPad 2 to your television. The camera is really dissapointing, though it does work well enough to use with FaceTime. The iPad 2 has far and away more apps, and better developer support than any other tablet out there, or likely to come out in the near future. The software is solid, well thought out, and stable. The notifications are very annoying, and Apple should really do something about that with the next update.

The Garage Band and PhotoBooth apps are excellent. They are easy to use, and really show off what the iPad 2 can do. Also, reviewers almost universally love the Smart Cover. It is elegant, almost automatic, and just cool. But most do wish that there was more protection for the back and sides of the device.

The original iPad was so good that the iPad 2 didn't need a lot of improvements, but this version is good enough that, while you don't necessarily need to rush out and get one if you already have an iPad, you will probably want to. And if you are shopping for a tablet, this is the best one, not only for the money, but the best one period. At least for now.

Photos in this article were taken by our own Vincent Nguyen for his review of the iPad 2.